Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why vintage Cartoon Network and Nick matters

1994: Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Calendar
1994: Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Calendar by Fred Seibert used CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
As a child who grew up in  the nineties, I'm not discontent to say that cartoons shaped my life. The old cartoons on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon were a gateway to American pop-culture and cultural tropes. Every genre, from comedy to drama and everything in between were brought to us in half hour episodes. We watched Hey Arnold! before the long bus ride to school and marveled at the misadventures of the old "football-head" and Helga Pataki's hammy Shakespearian tributes of love to "Arnold-o" in a dark alley corner with Brainy breathing down her neck.
"I need that cute, stupid, foot-ball head's hat! Oh....Did I just say that out loud?"
Or take for example the toilet humor drizzled across the various episodes of 2 Stupid Dogs. In the episode Show and Tell there is an instance of the teacher quoting the famous poet Tootie McFruity's "most extraordinary love sonnet" Lilac on my Tushie.

" Bushy, bushy Lilac Bushy,
Lilac bright upon my tushie."

And there is the graffiti in the toilet stall that Little Dog reads (the fact that Little Dog is literate is perhaps a subtle joke)

"Roses are reddish,
Boogers are greeny,
Corn's really corny,
Principal Schneider's a weenie"

Of course toilet humor may not be your forte, but that is one of the quintessential features that made shows stand out. Every gameshow on Nickelodeon had buckets of green slime being dropped on unsuspecting contestants and  Ahh, Monsters!!  was set in a backdrop of perpetual filth.
The Vintage Era managed to sneak in time capsules; if you watched them say 10 years later, you would probably get loads of cultural references or subtly masked adult humor that as kids we obviously missed. For example in the pilot episode of Johnny Bravo where our blond superhero tries to capture a 900 pound gorilla, he pulls out a scroll that lists all the martial arts he's mastered over the years and funnily enough it includes The Girl from Ipanema. The element of adult humor abound in many of the cartoons but 2 Stupid Dogs takes the cake. In the episode Family Values, a clear spoof of the Brady Bunch, the mother stops her daughter and step-son from fighting over the arrangement of dinner forks and asks them to kiss and make up; which they do- literally. The reference was lost on me until Community's Abed pointed it out " When you guys first came in, we were as wholesome as the family in The Brady Bunch. Now we're as dysfunctional and incestuous as the cast of The Brady Bunch." Another example of inappropriate-now-but-innocuous-then was the What a Cartoon Show's "Tales of Worm Paranoia". As kids we probably laughed at the worm getting stomped on by the  apathetic asshole with the spiked golf shoes but watch it again and you'll be chilled by the dialogue

"Don't worry about me, Sally. I know that humanity is foul and evil. But it doesn't bother me really."

He then proceeds to fill a cup with concentrated acid and decides to pay a little visit to a human he knows. When his girlfriend tries to stop him, he retorts
"Don't touch me! Can't you see my soul is on fire?"
Can you imagine a cartoon these days that can get away with such easter eggs?

And finally there's the irreverence. Some shows delivered lines that make you laud the sheer stupidity and comedic gold: Kenan's unhealthy obsession with orange soda, the antics of Amanda Bynes, the various sketches on All That! 
But the Oscar definitely goes to this piece: The cast of Space Ghost Coast to Coast are sitting at the table and Zorak is talking about something he was microwaving last night.
"My horse?!" interjects a terrified Space Ghost.
"You'd better not be."

The cartoons of yesteryear were brimming with life and served to provoke and entertain at the same time. They were like us: two dimensional characters in a three dimensional world, witty, sarcastic, scared and vulnerable. They had the breath of emotions and grit that today's cartoon characters can't even muster a fraction of. Instead we get Japanese animals from tiny red balls, dragons from spinning tops, some punk who can turn into a green monster and poorly animated and dubbed spin-offs of Hindu mythological characters. I honestly feel sorry for the kids growing up on this tasteless crap; they really missed out on the rich smörgåsbord that the children of the nineties like us were privileged to receive.

In short: Ben-Ten can suck it and Beyblade can eat my shorts.


Anonymous said...


blade said...

Yeah these kids don't know what they're missing. Something might cause it all to be brought back. Sometime surely?